Beauty in decline: Beauticians consolidate, work from home, offer freebies
Published: Sunday | December 20, 2009
Imogene Todd-Watson, president of the National Association of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists, wants to see even more partnerships developing.
With thousands of jobs gone and disposable income still in decline, beauty salons are attracting far fewer clientele, forcing a rethink of their business models.
Kathleen Thompson gave up a partnership in a downtown Kingston salon earlier this year.
She lives in Harbour View and is now concentrating exclusively on nails saying this has proven to be a more resilient line of business than just dressing hair.
"Most people are creaming their hair at home themselves and only going to the salon for a shampoo and treatment on special occasions," said Thompson.
And, other salon operators say clients have been switching from processing their hair to sporting the natural look, as well as locks.
"The lock is the latest craze, and while the sister locks is expensive, many are doing it themselves.
My dressmaker does it herself," says Imogene Todd-Watson, president of the National Association of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists (NACH).
"Many people are satisfied with self-grooming."
The typical salon visit can run into thousands of dollars: a minimum $1,000 for a basic shampoo; $2,000 for relaxing/creaming, or up to $4,000 if high-end relaxers, such as Affirm and Misani are used; $4,000 for high-end, full colour, with more for conditioning; $2,500 for a facial; a minimum $800 for cutting hair; $3,500 for highlights; and, $3,500 for a full body massage.
These costs vary according to products used and the location of the salon, where rental charges for the shop might be higher.
Some beauticians price low and make their margins off volume traffic.
Beauty-supply shops are said to be seeing increased business from individuals - the do-it yourself crowd - but the change in buying pattern has not been to their benefit since shops/salons tend to buy regularly and in bigger volumes and spend more.
Fewer salons means less revenue.
"I do not see suppliers doing good business. Some have closed down and are doing house-to-house deliveries," said Todd-Watson.
"There are also certain product lines which have also been dropped because of the fall-off in sales."
Indeed, Todd-Watson said that at the recent NACH trade show, 20 beauty supply establishments participated, whereas the usual number would be 40.
"They said that they were not able to participate for financial reasons," she told Sunday Business.
According to the NAHC head, a number of suppliers have closed some locations while expanding operations in others in a move to consolidate operations.
Among hairdressers and cosmeto-logists themselves, the industry has also seen some consolidation, with some members closing one location and making another larger, or sharing space on plazas with other skilled professionals who offer complementary services.
Some salons now feature cosmetologists, nail technicians, masseuses and other beauticians all sharing rent, which can be as high as $100,000 monthly, or more.
The greatest challenge to emerge in the last 18 months, said Todd-Watson, is the cost of electricity, which for her Kingston salon has moved from about $25,000 in January 2009, to $51,000 on the last bill, even though her eight salon mates have been practising conservation by unplugging equipment and the air-conditioning unit when the shop is not busy.
The cost of products, especially for high-end relaxers and conditioners, has also moved dramatically upward with the depreciation of the dollar by about $10 dollar during this year to just under $90 to the US dollar.
"The problem is that these expenses cannot be passed on the clients to the same degree that they are experienced," she said, so the shops are choosing to cut expenses elsewhere, including staff reductions.
"A lot of my friends and members have cut staff and are spending more time themselves in the business," said the NACH president.
They have also resorted to using part-time staff who go in on weekends when traffic is usually heavier and more hands are needed.
"Most of our costs have to be absorbed by the operator. The profit margin grows less and less as we absorb most of the increases. You are not making a profit. It is a matter of surviving," she said.
For Kathleen Thompson in Harbour View, although nails provide consistent work, even there, fewer clients are asking for the fancy designs that once were popular but are three to four times the regular price.
"Women are doing ordinary 'mani-pedis' instead of acrylics and airbrushing," she said,
flexible working hours
A manicure costs $500, but acrylics and airbrushing range in cost from $1,500 to $1,800.
Thompson is hoping that the Christmas season would see a return to requests for special designs.
To leverage business, Thomp-son has very flexible working hours.
"It is convenient for me to work from home because clients come after work and school. Sometimes I am working up to 2 a.m. in the mornings," she says.
Todd-Watson states that beauticians have no option but to be creative in the delivery of services if their businesses are to survive the economic downturn.
For a small addition to basic costs, she points out, some members of the industry provide clients with shampoo, hair sprays, conditioner, and other products for use in between visits; neck and shoulder massages before hair treatments; and also teach them how to care for their hair by doing wraps.
To retain clientele, compli-mentary treatments are also given periodically.
Todd-Watson would love to see more consolidation, saying there are still many shops that waste space. It simply takes finding the right partner.